Michigan is the third largest trash importer in the nation, ranking behind Virginia and Pennsylvania. While the majority of imported trash comes from Canada, Michigan also receives waste from all neighboring states and as far as New York.
Michigan has become a dumping ground in the midwest.. Michigan earned this title in response to its landfill surplus and inexpensive dumping charges. Michigan charges $10 per ton of trash, whereas states like New York charge as much as $40. Landfills are a serious environmental threat and reducing the number of landfills will be a large challenge towards Michigan’s government officials.
The environment of the Great Lakes region is blessed with huge forests and wilderness areas, rich agricultural land, hundreds of tributaries and thousands of smaller lakes, and extensive mineral deposits. The region’s glacial history and the tremendous influence of the lakes themselves create unique conditions that support a wealth of biological diversity, including more than 130 rare species and ecosystems.
The environment supports a world-class fishery and a variety of wildlife, such as white-tailed deer, beaver, muskrat, weasel, fox, black bear, bobcat, moose and other fur bearing animals. Bird populations thrive on the various terrains, some migrating south in the winter, others making permanent homes. An estimated 180 species of fish are native to the Great Lakes, including small- and large-mouth bass, muskellunge, northern pike, lake herring, whitefish, walleye and lake trout. Rare species making their home in the Great Lakes region include the world’s last known population of the white catspaw pearly mussel, the copper redhorse fish and the Kirtland’s warbler.
The region’s sand dunes, coastal marshes, rocky shorelines, lake-plain prairies, savannas, forests, fens, wetlands and other landscapes contain features that are either unique or best represented within the Great Lakes basin. For example, the world’s largest freshwater dunes line the shores of Lake Michigan.
Over the course of history, many types of pollution have inflicted and been reduced in the region, yet significant challenges remain. These range from threats to divert water out of the Great Lakes basin to the introduction of non-indigenous invasive species and airborne toxins into the basin. Protection of water quality and sustainable development remain long-term goals. Currently, however, Michigan’s biggest ecological challenge is imported waste dumping.
With such a vast wildlife refuge, one has to wonder how Michigan became the “dump on me” state. Municipal waste includes: durable goods, nondurable goods, containers & packaging, food wastes, and yard waste. However, other wastes may also be disposed in municipal landfills, including: municipal sludge, industrial non-hazardous waste, construction and demolition debris, agricultural waste, oil and gas waste, mining waste, and hazardous waste.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates the total cost of municipal waste disposal is $100 per ton. Therefore, the cost of ‘municipal’ waste disposal in the U.S. could be $23.8 billion. This figure does not include the associated financial costs of lost resources or the costs of landfills and incinerators on public health and the environment.
Fewer landfills does not mean less waste disposal or capacity. In 1978, there were approximately 20,000 landfills. By 1988, that number had dropped to 5,499. Currently the figure stands at 3,091. The EPA estimates that by the year 2008, only 1,234 landfills will be available. In 1997, Americans generated 340 million tons of municipal waste, which averaged 1.272 tons per person. The recycling rate was 30%, for a total amount of 238 million tons, or 0.890 tons of waste disposed per person. By comparison, in 1990, Americans generated 269 million tons at an average of 1.089 tons per person, recycled 8%, for a total disposal of 247 million tons, or 1.002 tons per person.
Early in 2004, members of the public and policy-makers became highly concerned when Toronto began sending 100% of its municipal solid waste, or about 1.1 million tons annually, to the Carleton Farms landfill in Wayne County, Michigan. The disposal of imported waste in Michigan landfills has been an issue since at least the late 1980s, however, when the State enacted legislation attempting to restrict waste imports. At present, waste imported from other states and Ontario represents approximately 20% of all municipal solid waste disposed of in Michigan landfills.
The volume of this waste raises concerns about potential health and environmental hazards, including ground water contamination. Waste originating from outside of Michigan is of particular concern because it may contain items that are banned from landfills in this State or are contraband.
Non-decontaminated medical waste, radioactive medical waste, and marijuana, for example, have been found in waste shipments from Canada. Also, the transportation of waste into and through the State can contribute to increased pollution, noise, and traffic, as well as the deterioration of roadways. Many people also worry that the volume of waste eventually will lead to the use of natural resources for new landfills. Others fear that imported waste could threaten homeland security, if terrorists used the waste to hide weapons, explosives, other dangerous material, or themselves
What is clear is that a number of issues remain unresolved and concerns about imported waste persist. These concerns recently have been heightened, in fact, by reports that up to 1,000 tons of demolition debris are being shipped by rail daily from New Jersey to a landfill in Rockwood, Michigan. As the Michigan Legislature and the United States Congress begin new sessions in January, it is likely that some proposals will represent renewed attempts to address the issues of imported waste and the reliance on landfills for waste disposal.
Although, Michigan cannot constitutionally impose restrictions that would discriminate against out-of-State waste, unless Congress explicitly authorizes states to do so, many people believe that the State could discourage waste disposal here by raising the cost of landfill disposal.